Released December 2011
The trilogy featuring the Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley closes with ‘Army of Death,’ a story that at last takes this erstwhile companion to the far future while raising questions outside of the release of just how this could occur given that Shelley would come to write about a very different future in The Last Man. ‘Army of Death’ continues the undercurrent of horror that has been present through the previous two releases, but writer Jason Anopp’s tale deals more directly with the overtly scary side of horror rather than the romanticism and sympathy that have been focal points until now. This leads to some truly good scenes, but the end result falls far short of its predecessors.
Seemingly out of nowhere, it is revealed that Mary has begun developing romantic feelings for the Doctor. This is in itself not an unreasonable assertion and this plotline has worked incredibly well both for audio companions and modern television companions, but the throwaway line that the two have shared many further adventures together since ‘The Witch from the Well’ during which time these feelings are supposed to have manifested feels disingenuous and robs the sentiment of true emotional buildup since no mention of these feelings had even been intimated in either of the preceding two stories. The fact that the conclusion to this story certainly makes it seem as though Shelley’s time in the TARDIS has reached its end means that there can also be no further payoff unless the two were to happen upon each other in her future. Of course, future stories could potentially revisit the time when romantic notions were forming, but for now it’s a very jarring and unsatisfying aspect of the story.
Saying that, ‘Army of Death’ does proceed at a decent pace for the first three episodes as the warring city-states are introduced and the intrigue deepens with satisfying twists and revelations, and David Harewood’s President Vallan is particularly strong as his loyalties and paranoias are tested. However, the story falls apart when the true villain Karnex is introduced. A dead president resurrecting himself as a giant skeleton comes off just as cheesy and odd as the idea suggests, and the excessively melodramatic dialogue and lack of clear motivation as he stomps around and rants incessantly. It’s possible that the role was written for humour, but the story itself if certainly not a comedy and the performance is so far over the top that it’s extremely difficult to listen to without growing confused and irritated.
‘Army of Death’ is perhaps a story that tries to accomplish too much in its running time as it meshes political intrigue with horror, and the somewhat unclear backstory along with the definitively over the top villain take away from both aspects. Julie Cox again proves to be a revelation as the very reserved and determined Mary Shelley, a companion who would be most welcome for a return should Big Finish consent, and Paul McGann is, as always, on top form even in the face of such bizarre horrors. However, as for the lingering thought of just how The Last Man can be reconciled with the view of the future afforded Shelley here, it just might be most likely that she has chosen to forget what- as of now- is a whimpering ending for her travels through space and time.